1910 Clock Rises Over Chambers St., an Instant Landmark for Tribeca

Peter Nunes waits to position the clock on its column during installation on Dec. 16 at the south end of Bogardus Plaza. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Dec. 18, 2020

It’s about time, in more ways than one, for Bogardus Plaza.

Along with the much delayed opening of the plaza on Wednesday comes the installation of a new Tribeca landmark, a 110-year-old, cast-iron clock that now stands on the plaza, near Chambers Street. 

As an added distinction, the beautifully restored timepiece is thought to be the only mechanical—weight driven, not electrified—sidewalk clock in the city. It will be wound weekly by Friends of Bogardus Plaza, the purchasers of the clock, and serviced and maintained by the city’s official clock master, Marvin Schneider.

“The principal is the same as the clock in City Hall,” said Schneider, whose responsibilities include caring for the historic clock in the City Hall tower. “But it’s made to fit in a small space. And no ringing. No striking. So it’s relatively simple. And it’s a quick wind.”

Schneider, among others. was on hand Monday to watch the installation of the clock, which seemed anything but simple, especially given the persistent rain that dampened the 12-hour operation by Peter Nunes and his two-man crew, plus crane operators. It’s a rare skill, but a satisfying one, Nunes said.

“I love resurrecting these wonderful old objects that have been neglected or damaged and getting them going again,” Nunes said later over the phone. 

This $40,000 clock had stood for many years in front of a jewelry store in Lansing, Mich., and was purchased by Hugh Sinclair, a clock collector and restorer in Chatham, Ontario, who has been storing the timepiece for the past 20 years. It would not have landed in Tribeca had it not been for Jeremy Woodoff, a horologist who works in the historic preservation office of the city’s Department of Design and Construction. Woodoff first convinced Friends of Begardus Plaza president Victoria Weil to buy an antique clock rather than a reproduction. And even better, one with mechanical clockworks.

An antique clock on the site makes sense, Woodoff said, because Margot Gayle, the late historic preservationist who named the garden for James Bogardus, had a passion for cast iron architectural design (Bogardus pioneered cast iron architecture) and for public clocks. “It seemed like the perfect thing to have a cast-iron antique public clock on a site named for James Bogardus,” he said. Adding to the significance, Bogardus was an innovative clockmaker, too. 

Even before deciding to remake the plaza, Weil said, came the idea of installing a clock, suggested by her neighbor Eric Cochran, who remembered a clock in the center of his hometown, Hamilton, NY.

“The clock was the original anchor and that’s what we were striving toward,” Weil recalled. “And then I found out about the Department of Transportation’s plaza program [which got the plaza project off the ground], and it was like, wait a second, we can do more than this. And then the clock almost went away because it felt sort of non-essential compared to this big renovation.”

Not any more, Weil added, noting her appreciation for the craftsmanship and beauty of the timepiece and its restoration. “It’s a monument in the heart of Tribeca,” she said. “And, to me, it feels bigger than the project itself.”